My Corner, Your Corner: I remember when his memories were gone

My Corner, Your Corner - Tony Callaio | January 15th, 2016 12:46 pm

At 18, 20, 22 years old, there’s still a lot of life left. For many, that includes schooling, jobs, marriage, parenthood and retirement.

In my experience, getting through life as a 20- or 30-something couldn’t have been better. Many at this time in their lives are still athletic, able to move about quite well with few aches and pains.

At 40, most of us are still at the top of our game, albeit not as agile as we once were. Jogging, playing tennis or a pick-up game of basketball are still on the agenda. Mentally, we’re sharp as a tack and on top of our game. We’re probably excelling at our jobs and maybe even earning top dollar.

Fifty years old could be a game-changer. It takes three times as long to recover from a pulled muscle and, after years of playing a sport, body parts begin to wear out. Maybe we occasionally forget where we left our car keys. Instead of playing three sets of tennis, we play one.

By the time we reach 60, our competitive days are behind us, aches and pains turn into arthritis and that pulled muscle – well, it seems to never get better. The good news is, with the exception of forgetting why we got out of our chair to go into another room, our mind is still very active.

What if, like my dad, we are in your early-to-mid 50s and our mind just isn’t right? Not only do we forget more often, but our personality begins to change. What if we can’t remember the name of one of our classmates?

The diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is devastating on a family. In the disease’s initial stages, it’s hard and confusing on the victim, but when it progresses, the devastation is on the family.

I was in my mid-20s when my dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. It was getting harder for Mom to handle Dad and decisions had to be made. Inevitably, he was placed in a nursing home with supervised 24-hour care.

Unfortunately, there weren’t many drugs to battle the disease and it was still difficult to diagnose. Today, the medical world has a better handle on treatment, but there still is no cure. With progression, the patient’s mind is robbed of memories while immediate family members and friends watch the light in their eyes flicker away slowly.

Last weekend, I visited an old friend, a Little League teammate and high school classmate. Visiting him was a flashback to my 20s all over again. My friend has lost most of his memory.

Most people with Alzheimer’s disease mask faded memories with a chuckle. I believe they are aware they are supposed to know someone or something and, instead of admitting the acknowledgement, they smile and laugh.

My friend, in his late 50s, is a lost soul. That much he knows. He knows his favorite football team, his wife and two young children but not much more.

I found myself wanting to do with him what I did with my father. When I asked him a question, I wanted to pull the answers out of him. I wanted to help fill the void of his memory. I always felt if I could jar my dad’s memory, he could remember.

Alzheimer’s is a cruel disease. Heredity is a big factor. My father’s own mother suffered from dementia in her later years and my friend’s mother was also a victim.

My dad will be gone 20 years in April and my mom, suffering from dementia at 88 years old, has been in a nursing home since the fall of 2014. It’s tough to see my mom like this, but years of dealing with my dad and the disease help me cope.

To my friend’s family: I hope you can make future decisions that will not only benefit him, but help yourself. Stay strong and stay patient. Remember, this is not his fault. Godspeed.

Quote of the week

“Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary.” – Cecil Beaton, English photographer.

Thought of the week

“If you smile when no one else is around, you really mean it.” – Andy Rooney, American journalist.

Bumper sticker

“To move freely, you must be deeply rooted.” – Bella Lewitsky, American choreographer

My Corner, Your Corner

Tony Callaio

Tony Callaio’s column My Corner, Your Corner runs weekly in the Sunday Dispatch. He can be reached at